Among these were Cetelem, founded in 1953 to help households buy domestic electrical appliances; UCB, which specialised in real estate finance; and later, in 1973, Cardif, an insurance company which had developed new kinds of products and distribution channels. Jacques de Fouchier later became Chairman of Paribas, injecting an extra dimension of innovation and enterprise into the bank. In 1968 Paribas took advantage of the new rules authorising link-ups between merchant banks and deposit-taking banks to acquire control of Crédit du Nord, after first making an unsuccessful takeover bid for the Crédit Industriel et Commercial Group.

Nationalisations and privatisations

Though the major French deposit banks, including BNP, had been nationalised in 1945, a law passed in 1973 allowing limited shareholdings in those banks by employees had enabled BNP staff to build up small stakes in the bank. However in 1982, the new Socialist government took BNP back into full State ownership and also nationalised Paribas for the first time, which came as a shock for the bank and its shareholders. Nevertheless, the 1980s proved to be a period of deregulation and financial innovation. Computer technology began to play a major role in customer service, with the first remote checking of bank statements via the Minitel service, an early Internet-type network invented in France. BNP made strenuous efforts to stay ahead of the competition in the area of technology. In 1989 BNP formed a strategic alliance in the insurance field with UAP, which later became part of the AXA group. The bank became best known however for its corporate and major project financing. It made its mark in aerospace and also helped to finance two iconic European projects: Eurotunnel in 1986 and Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris) in 1992. The bank was run along prudent lines, and managed to avoid the real estate crash of the 1990s.

Meanwhile Paribas opened a large trading floor in London in 1986, while Compagnie bancaire continued to innovate. In 1984 it set up Cortal, which was the first 100% branchless bank. In 1985 Cortal began to offer interest-bearing accounts, and in 1994 set up a SICAV (unit trust) boutique. When government policy changed again, Paribas was re-privatised in 1987, attracting a record number of individual shareholders to its public offer. The bank now pursued a business model based on international merchant banking and specialist finance, which led it in 1997 to divest its retail arm, Crédit du Nord.

In 1993, Michel Pébereau was appointed to lead BNP with a mandate to take the bank through privatisation. This proved a great success, and in fact BNP was the first bank to act as its own advisor on the public share offer. Michel Pébereau then embarked on a truly industrial-scale project. The year 1992 had seen the introduction of the Single European Market and he set about creating a financial institution equipped to take on the new competition. The branch network was modernised and the product range brought up to date. From 1997 the bank was available to customers via the Internet. Around this time it also set up a sophisticated risk control process.

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